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Nightmare comes blissfully true

James Hemphill's first film, `Bad Reputation,' makes the horror fest at the Cinematheque.

July 29, 2007|Susan King | Times Staff Writer

A year ago, writer-director James Hemphill was attending a screening of "RoboCop" and "Starship Troopers" at American Cinematheque's sixth annual Festival of Fantasy, Horror and Science Fiction at the Aero Theatre. While watching the Paul Verhoeven sci-fi flicks, Hemphill was harboring his own fantasy that someday he would make a movie that would play at the festival. "Little did I know it would be this fast," he says.

Hemphill will be on hand at the Aero's screening Aug. 12 to discuss his first film, "Bad Reputation," a low-budget "Carrie" homage that he shot on digital video. The film stars Angelique Hennessy as a shy high schoolgirl who is raped by classmates at a party -- then turns the tables on her tormentors.

"I have always loved horror films," says Hemphill. "There were basically three movies that made me want to become a director. Two of them were horror films -- 'The Shining' and 'Halloween' -- and the third was a non-horror film, 'Bronco Billy' with Clint Eastwood. I didn't necessarily set out to be a horror director. I wanted to make movies."

The monthlong festival opens Thursday at the Egyptian with a six-day engagement of the new omnibus horror film "Trapped Ashes," written by Dennis Bartok, a former programmer at the Cinematheque. The vignettes were directed by Joe Dante, Sean Cunningham, Ken Russell, John Gaeta and Monte Hellman.

The premise finds seven strangers trapped inside a "House of Horrors" during a movie studio tour. The only way to get out alive is to tell their most horrifying personal stories.

"The entire movie is kind of an homage to my dear friend Max Rosenberg, who founded Amicus Films," says Bartok. "He produced a lot of classic anthology films like 'The House That Dripped Blood.' I wanted to evoke that kind of feel and make it a little more contemporary and bring together a whole group of filmmakers."

Hellman, whose vignette in "Trapped Ashes" is called "Stanley's Girlfriend," directed such cult classics as "Two Lane Blacktop," but he's no stranger to horror and sci-fi genres, having directed "The Beast From Haunted Cave" and did uncredited work on "RoboCop."

" 'Stanley's Girlfriend,' " offers Hellman, is "the kind of horror movie that I like the best. It's really the least horror of any of the stories. It's there, but very subtle. It's hair on the back of your neck rising. When I do horror, I treat it as reality. The supernatural elements the audience can take or leave. I find a realistic way to look at it."

The festival isn't just a showcase for new films. There are several vintage features on the schedule that rarely get theatrical screenings.

"There is a lot of variety," says director Dante ("Gremlins," "The Howling"), "and they come up with good prints. To see some of these on the big screen -- I think some of these haven't been seen in 25 or 40 years."

One of Dante's favorites in the festival is Ken Russell's X-rated "The Devils" with Oliver Reed and Vanessa Redgrave.

"It's a very hard movie to see on the big screen, and it demands it," says Dante. "Derek Jarman did the art direction, and it's one of the most beautiful-looking movies I've ever seen."

Dante's favorite Roger Vadim movie, the vampire thriller "Blood and Roses," is on his must-see list.

"It's one of the most stunningly beautiful pictures I have ever seen," he says. "The cast is gorgeous."

He has great childhood memories of "World Without End," which he says hasn't had a public screening in eons.

"I was probably 8 years old when I saw that picture," he recalls. "It was on a double bill with 'Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy.'

"I liked both pictures so much, I stayed to see them twice. When I went home, my parents had called the police because they didn't know where I was!"

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susan.king@latimes.com

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7th Annual Festival of Fantasy, Horror and Science Fiction

Where: American Cinematheque at the Egyptian Theatre, 6712 Hollywood Blvd, Hollywood, and Aero Theatre, 1328 Montana Ave., Santa Monica

When: Thursday through Aug. 26 at the Egyptian; Aug. 9 through 12 at the Aero

Price: $7 to $10

Contact: (323) 466-FILM or go to www.americancinematheque.com

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